Dónal Óg Cusack might have won the William Hill Irish Sports Book of the Year Award for ‘Come What May’, his autobiography written by/with Tom Humphries, but it’s not the only enlightening book about a hurling goalkeeper in the shops this Christmas.
Conor Power, “proud as punch” son of Ned, the former Waterford and Tallow net-minder who was guarding the goal the last time the county caught hold of the Liam McCarthy Cup all of half-a-century ago, has published the story of the sporting life led by ‘My Father: A Hurling Revolutionary’.
Referring to Louis MacMonagle’s famous 1962 photo of his dad, and one of finest hurling shots of any era, Conor says it gives the impression of ‘an athlete at the top of his game… But pictures can be deceiving… sport is not always a place for fairytales and, in truth, my father was fortunate, at that point, to be picked on the team and to subsequently make it into that photo.’
As he explains: ‘In 1961, more than a year before this picture was taken, Waterford’s All-Ireland winning goalie – 31-year-old Ned Power – was sitting, deep in concentration, waiting patiently to line out in goal against Tipperary. Another team member, a regular battler with pre-match nerves, noticed what he mistakenly took to be the same pre-match jitters in Ned and offered him a “tablet” (this was in the good old drug-free days in sport!). The tablet turned out to be a “downer” and Ned played an uncharacteristically sluggish and unfocused first half making several costly mistakes much to the consternation of the coaching staff. He was taken off at half time and unceremoniously dropped from the panel. His days were over. He “hadn’t it” any more… Ned could easily have lived out his days in bittersweet memory of his highs with Waterford that petered out in the low of that bizarre drug-coloured “final” match. Mick Curley, another famous Tallow goalkeeper and himself unlucky not to make the ’48 All-Ireland winning team, urged him to “keep playing, keep making yourself available”. This he did. A year went by and Ned kept playing and kept positive, a 32-year old has-been waiting for one more chance. A week before this picture was taken he got a phone call from a somewhat reluctant Waterford County board member. They were stuck and he was their last resort. The words they used were “Ned, would you ever come along on Sunday …we’ve no-one”. My father’s own words were even less complimentary. He said that he “must have been the best of a bad lot”.
‘So along he came and the months and weeks of pent-up frustration and preparation for this moment launched him into a sparkling display that peaked with that famous leap into the sky, caught magically here for eternity.’